• Maniac (Blue Underground) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: December 11th, 2018.
    Director: William Lustig
    Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Abigail Clayton, Kelly Piper, Rita Montone, Tom Savini
    Year: 1980
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    Maniac – Movie Review:

    Promoted by a garish advertising campaign featuring a one sheet with a man holding a woman’s scalp and a bloody knife bookending a suspicious bulge in his pants, William Lustig’s first ‘mainstream film’ (he’d previously directed adult pictures The Violation Of Claudia and Hot Honey) was, maybe not so surprisingly, a lightning rod for controversy. It’s story of a middle-aged man with ‘mommy issues’ brutally murdering beautiful woman on the streets of New York City didn’t sit well with certain parties, but in many ways, that controversy helped to cement the film in the minds of the movie going public. Almost forty years later, Maniac has lost none of its power to shock, but revisiting the film its important to note that there’s a lot more to this than just blood, violence and nudity.

    The film follows a troubled man named Frank Zito (Joe Spinell of The Last Horror Film and The Undertaker) who lives alone in a Queens apartment. His mother died in a car crash some years ago and while she was abusive to him, it’s clear to anyone paying attention that he hasn’t gotten over her death. A greasy and unkempt man, Frank has a strange hobby – he kills women, cuts off their scalps and then places those scalps on the mannequins that he keeps in his apartment. We see this early on in the film when he hires a prostitute and brutally murders her in a cheap Manhattan hotel room.

    As Frank’s killing streak continues, he meets a beautiful fashion photographer named Anna D'Antoni (Caroline Munro of Star Crash and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter). When she foolishly leaves some of her gear unattended in Central Park, he finds her address on the tag of her camera bag. This gives him an excuse to visit her later that night and, rather puzzlingly and very naively (this is the movies only major logic gap), when he does, she lets him in. The pair hit it off and before you know it, he’s taking her to dinner in New Jersey at Clam Casino at showing up at her photo shoots. When one of her models, Rita (adult actress Abigail Clayton of Femmes De Sade and SexWorld) disappears, she has no idea that Frank’s behind it – but of course, the more she gets to know him the more she realizes that something is very, very wrong with him.

    Highlighted by some wonderfully over the top murder set pieces orchestrated by Tom Savini, Maniac still packs a pretty serious punch – it’s a gory and vicious film. The authentic New York City locations add plenty of gritty, sleazy atmosphere to the proceedings, effectively portraying the city as a place where a maniac like Zito could effectively operate undetected were he careful enough. The score from frequent Lustig collaborator Jay Chattaway (who also worked on the first two Manic Cop films and Vigilante) also helps here, raising tension and drama when and where it should. Maniac may not have been made with a huge budget but Lustig and company get every penny up there on the screen. Cinematographer Robert Linsday, who had shot Lustig’s earlier adult films and who also did camerawork on The Prowler, comes up with some really creative and visually engaging compositions for the film, the best example being the chase scene in the subway station that ends in the filthy public restroom. The editing here, and in the rest of the movie as well, also helps to keep us involved in the film and wrapped up in its suspense.

    The real reason to watch the film, however, is Spinell. This was clearly a personal film to him. He co-wrote the screenplay with C.A. Rosenberg and also served as executive producer but more importantly, in front of the camera he committed. His Frank Zito is frightening because he exists in the realm of possibility and because he’s able to blend in. When he becomes attracted to Anna, he’s able to turn on the charm and Spinell transforms this unattractive, out of shape, schlub of a man into a suave, fashion-conscious charmer. Watching Spinell work in this film is a rare treat in that it gives a truly underappreciated actor the chance to play a lead role (he was mostly a character or supporting actor throughout his career) and really run with it. He is nothing short of amazing in the film. Of course, the rest of the cast are fun too – Munro is beautiful and just plain likeable here, coming across as a total sweetheart – and it’s neat to see Abigail Clayton show up in the picture. Lustig also uses Sharon Mitchell (of his earlier adult films and hundreds of other dirty movies like Daughter Of Discipline and Wanda Whips Wall Street) in the film and Savini has a small role as one of Zito’s victims (which, interestingly enough, required him to basically kill himself as he ‘pulled the trigger’ in this, the film’s most infamous scene). Lustig himself also appears in the film as the man behind the desk at the seedy hotel, and also be on the look out for small roles for Kelly Piper (of Vice Squad and Rawhead Rex), Rita Montone (of Bloodsucking Freaks and The Children) and western movie/TV stalwart Carol Henry.

    Maniac – Blu-ray Review:

    For this Blu-ray reissue, Blue Underground has gone back to Maniac’s original 16mm negative and given the film a full 4k restoration. Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc, this is a vast improvement over the previous Blu-ray release. That prior disc had faulty black levels and looked washed out whereas now, things look really strong in that department. Color reproduction now looks much more realistic, the gritty vibe of the film shining through perfectly. There’s quite a bit of natural film grain here but no real print damage to note at all. The disc is really well authored, showing no problems with compression artifacts and the transfer is free of obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. Skin tones look perfectly natural and there’s very strong depth and detail evident throughout. This is, by anyone’s standard, a significant upgrade in the video department over what we’ve seen in the past.

    DTS-HD tracks are provided in English in DTS-HD 7.1 and DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles provided in English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Korean, Russian, Swedish and Thai. Dubbed tracks are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish, French, Italian and German language options. The 7.1 mix is pretty solid, keeping the dialogue mostly upfront but spreading out the score and the effects rather effectively – pay attention when the phone rings in one scene or when that catchy pop diddy plays, your surround sound system will kick in quite nicely. The original mono mix does tend to suit the movie better, and it too is of very good quality. Both tracks are nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion, featuring clear dialogue and decent range. No problems here at all.

    The extras on disc one begin with an audio commentary with co-producer/director William Lustig and co-producer Andrew W. Garroni. It’s an interesting track that covers where the story came from, how Lustig and Garroni came to be involved in the film, working with Spinell, the locations, the controversy around the film and more. A second commentary gets Lustig together with special makeup effects artist Tom Savini, editor Lorenzo Marinelli and Joe Spinell's assistant Luke Walter. This track is also solid, with a lot of focus on Spinell’s involvement, details on getting Zito’s apartment prepped in just the right way for the movie, the effects work featured in the picture, some of the difficulties that the cast and crew ran into on set and plenty more. Both of these tracks are carried over from the previous DVD/Blu-ray releases but if you haven’t heard them before, they’re quite informative and cover a lot of ground.

    The first disc also includes ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ American theatrical trailers, an international trailer, a French trailer, a German trailer and teaser trailer, an Italian trailer, nine separate television spots, four radio spots, menus and chapter selection. Additionally, if you poke around on the disc you can find a fun Easter Egg wherein William Friedkin talks about the film for a bit.

    Disc two features two new supplements, the first of which is Returning To The Scene Of The Crime wherein William Lustig revisits the locations used for the movie as they exist in the modern day. This runs just under eight-minutes and its interesting stuff, especially if you have an affinity for movies shot in New York City. Also new to this release, and well worth checking out is a featurette containing some choice outtakes from the film. There’s just short of nineteen-minutes of material here, seen here for the first time. Lustig himself narrates the material and explains how it was found and wound up on this disc – it’s a great chance to see some rare footage of the cast and crew at work and a fascinating historical document of the film.

    Carried over from the past Blu-ray and DVD releases are some great archival featurettes starting with Anna And The Killer which is an interview with actress Caroline Munro that runs thirteen-minutes. In this piece, Munro talks about her role in the film, working with Lustig and Spinell, and her thoughts on the film overall as well as some other projects that she’s been involved with over the years like Star Crash. The Death Dealer is an interview with Tom Savini that runs twelve-minutes wherein Savini talks about the effects work that he did on this picture, some of the work he did on Dawn Of The Dead and Friday The 13th, and what was involved in conjuring up some of Manaic’s more memorable death scenes. Dark Notes gets composer Jay Chattaway in front of the camera for twelve-minutes to talk about his work on the film, what went into creating the score, working with Lustig and more. Maniac Men interviews songwriters Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky for eleven-minutes about creating the catchy, dancey pop song Maniac that was recorded for this, unused and then reworked to appear in Flashdance.

    Also carried over from past editions is the forty-nine-minute documentary The Joe Spinell Story. For those who haven’t seen it, this is an amazing look back at Spinell’s bizarre life and times made in 2001 by David Gregory. Featuring insight and opinions on the man from Robert Forster, William Lustig, Richard Lynch, Jason Miller, Caroline Munro, Buddy Giovinazzo, Frank Pesce, Luke Walter and plenty of archival footage featuring Spinell himself it paints a fascinating portrait of a genuinely unique personality. It covers not only his work in Maniac but also in more mainstream films like The Godfather, Taxi Driver and Rocky and it covers not only his career but his personal life as well. This is absolutely worth taking the time to see, and just as worthy of revisiting.

    The disc also includes the Mr. Robbie: Maniac 2 Promo Reel that Buddy Giovinazzo, director of Combat Shock, shot with Spinell before he passed away. This short was originally shot in 1989 as a promo to help secure financing for the proposed film, but obviously Spinell's death from a heart attack later that year wound up making completing the picture impossible. The footage doesn't really have much to do with the story of the original film, but it's definitely worth a watch as it has that great, seedy feel and it features Spinell going all out.

    But that’s not all. If you dig into the Maniac Publicity section you’ll find a wealth of additional materials including a massive still gallery, a two-minute news report on the film entitled Barf Bag Review Policy, a three-minute vintage TV interview with Munro where she talks about making the film, a great thirteen-minute interview with Spinell from the Joe Frankling show where he talks about Maniac and his approach to acting, a one-minute clip showing Spinell’s trip to the Cannes Film Festival, a vintage radio interview with Lustig conducted by Paul Wunder, a twenty-minute clip of Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro, a twenty-two minute Q&A with Q&A with Lustig, actress Sharon Mitchell and producer Andrew W. Garroni from the Grindhouse Film Festival and last but not least, a great forty-one-minute interview with Lustig originally recorded for a public access show in 1981 called Movie Madness.

    In the Maniac Controversy section there is yet more material to take in. All of this material covers the controversy and sometimes the protests that occurred during the film’s theatrical release, starting with a two-minute clip from Channel 7 News in Los Angeles from March 6th, 1981 and followed up a clip from Channel 11 News, also from 1981, running just under two minutes. A four-minute clip from the NBC Tomorrow Show from March 7th 1981, a two-minute clip from Channel 2 News in Chicago from February 3rd, 1981, a thirty-second clip from Philadelphia’s Channel 10 News from March 2nd, 1981, two clips from Channel 3 News from March 3rd, 1981 and then another from Channel 6 News from the same day running just under a minute. From there, we get a thirteen-minute report from Newsbeat entitled Violent Movies, an eight-minute segment called Movie Violence and then a great Midnight Blue segment that runs four-minutes where, of course, Al Goldstein goes on one of his trademark style rants against violent films. This is followed by a three-minute clip wherein Goldstein mutilates an inflatable love doll, because of course it is.

    Again, menus are included here and if you’re willing to poke around on those menus you just might uncover an Easter Egg that will show off eight amazing minutes of Joe Spinell at ‘The Dive.’

    The third disc in the set is a CD of the complete original motion picture soundtrack from composer Jay Chattaway. This is an underappreciated extra and worth pointing out – the soundtrack for the movie is very effective and Chattaway’s work on the film is interesting to listen to even outside the context of the movie it was made for.

    Blue Underground has also included a full color insert booklet that contains a new essay by author Michael Gingold entitled Maniacs That Might Have Been. This booklet also includes the track listing for the soundtrack and some other information on the release. On top of that, the packaging includes a neat lenticular slipcover!

    Maniac – The Final Word:

    Maniac stands the test of time remarkably well, it’s an effective, disturbing and ambitious slasher film ripe with tension, suspense and shock value. Of course, Spinell’s performance is what makes this as memorable as it is, he was never better than in this film, but Lustig’s direction and Savini’s effects work also play a huge part in making the film as effective as it is. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray reissue is a thing of morbid beauty, presenting the picture in a gorgeous new transfer, with really strong audio and with a couple of important new extras and all of the archival material from past editions as well. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Maniac Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. agent999's Avatar
      agent999 -
      That looks nice. The CD and proper black levels have persuaded me to order it.